Leeds student Zara Mullooly eyeing Worlds glory after challenging time at the Paralympics

Paralympic swimmer and Leeds student Zara Mullooly is focusing on the present after her challenging Tokyo 2020 experience.

By Megan Armitage
Saturday, 27th November 2021, 6:00 am

The nineteen-year-old was forced to self-isolate just two weeks out from the start of the Paralympic Games this summer, meaning she was without a pool leading into the biggest competition of her career.

After recent success, which included a bronze and silver at the 2019 World Para Championships in London, Mullooly was aiming for the podium in Tokyo.

“Coming off the back of worlds, I was going into Tokyo hoping to medal and, for the quarantine to have happened, I think that really affected everything,” said Mullooly, who just missed out on medals with two fourth-place finishes in the S10 400m Freestyle and 34 points 4x100m Medley.

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Leeds student Zara Mullooly in action for Great Britain on the way to bronze in the Women’s 100m Freestyle S10 at the London 2019 World Para-swimming Championships. Picture: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images.

“Heading into the competition the mood wasn’t where we wanted it to be, especially for me. I just wasn’t looking forward to it any more; it was not really the experience that I hoped it would be.”

Mullooly was diagnosed with congenital right-side hemiplegia in 2008 and qualified late for the 2020 games after being forced to undergo reclassification for her S10 category, meaning she was unsure about her future in the sport.

“Training during that time was hard as I wasn’t quite sure whether I would be able to go to Tokyo or just not be able to swim again,” said Mullooly.

Reclassified but unable to train after coming into close contact with Covid-19, the Leeds student was forced to self-isolate during the Paralympic holding camp in Japan. With poor access to food during her isolation, Mullooly lost a considerable amount of weight and was no longer in the mind frame to compete on the world stage.

Great Britain's Zara Mullooly looks on after competing in Women's 50m Freestyle - S10 heat at the Tokyo Paralympics this year. Picture: Adam Pretty/Getty Images.

“I was hoping to do a considerable personal best and then to be so far away from it. I just didn’t have the fitness because I hadn’t swum for two weeks,” said Mullooly, who made finals in all her events but came seventh in her S10 50m and 100m Freestyle.

“By the end it was okay but I wasn’t really happy with any of my swims at all.”

Quarantine prevented the team from practicing relay takeovers during the weeks leading into the games and that showed with a disqualification in the 4x100m free.

“Everyone was still so supportive of each other; we all swam our hardest,” said Mullooly.

Great Britain's World bronze medal winner Zara Mullooly, right, with Poland’s gold-medal winner Oliwia Jablonska after the Women's 400m Freestyle S10 Final in 2019. Picture: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images.

“I actually swam a second quicker in the relays than my individual.

“It would have been nice if I had that swim in my individual because then I would have medalled but it’s fine.”

Closing the door on her Paralympic experience, the Northampton swimmer made the decision to focus on school and started Leeds University in September, studying law.

“I was putting my education first which I hadn’t really done before. I wanted to apply to my course and I wasn’t really thinking about swimming,” said Mullooly.

Balancing sport and her course, the freestyle swimmer has complimented Leeds on their ability to make her feel like part of a university and not just an elite swimmer.

“It still feels like a Northampton training group. Everyone is really strong so I still feel like I’m being pushed just as much as I would have been back home,” she said.

“But it’s more of a chilled environment as a university team so I’m really enjoying that.”

Not sure about what the future holds for her and swimming, the teenager is just enjoying being in the moment and having fun whilst doing what she loves.

“I think I will keep swimming until I don’t enjoy it any more,” said Mullooly.

The Leeds swimmer is not focusing too much on future competitions but, with a packed 2022 international schedule, she’s keeping her eye on the horizon.

“My focus is on world’s next year but I’m just enjoying what I’m doing at the moment and trying not to look too far into the future.”